Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mr. Rinpoche and the Black Ribbon

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 50

I was reading the article in the NYT’s on Friday about the move towards more talks between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama’s envoys. In the article they quoted the Prime Minister of Tibet in Exile and called him Mr. Rinpoche.

That would be the equivalent of calling him Mr. Honorable Perfection or Mr. Embodiment of the Light or Mr. Precious One— or if one were a breathy Marilyn Monroe, Mr. President.

I normally don’t get interested much in politics unless the story behind it leads to a poem, but as both Christian and Audrey Elizabeth’s tattoos and the name of this blog are all derived from the sacred Tibetan Endless Knot (a Meander) I thought it might be useful to share a story of transformation I heard this week.

It is about the melancholy old guy Duncan who wears berets, goes to tons of foreign movies, writes a blog and lusts after beautiful young women he is lucky to share a bus seat with.

He’s kind of high strung, had to quit his most recent job and live off his small inheritance because work was interfering with his drinking and his reading of The New York Review of Books, Arts and Letters, the Nation, etc.etc.

Once he talked to me with some authority about the benefits of meditation but when I asked him where he sat, what Buddhist Center, he said he’d never actually practiced meditation. Clearly it was the idea of meditation he was interested in, This is a guy who is entrenched in his own suffering, his whole romantic idea of art is about suffering and longing for the unattainable.

He loves sports; Duncan, basketball and baseball, he ricochets between the seasons full of hopes and dreams and much consternation and fussiness if he can’t enjoy what he is looking forward to next gamewise.

He runs himself (when it doesn’t mess with his drinking) and values the dedication (and probably bodies) of world class athletes and is much looking forward to the Olympics this summer. It annoyed the heck out of him that protestors were messing with the sacred torch relay and all the noble ideals espoused by the Olympics.

I find his blog boring because all he seems to do is massage and spout back out received wisdom from the liberal press but Christian reads it and has coffee with Duncan sometimes to talk about politics and gossip about poets.

Apparently on a long run a few weeks ago early on a Sunday morning Duncan decided to pass through downtown Portland, he wanted to see what was playing at the local art houses and when he ran by Pioneer Square he heard this low droning coming from the corner of the square, it almost sounded like something out of a dream, a chant, an invocation, something otherworldly.

There on the cold bricks (it was almost freezing) were about ten old men, in comfortable working men’s clothes, most older even than Duncan himself sitting cross legged and sending prayers towards an altar they had built themselves with sacred pictures and candle light.

There was canvas cover over a couple of folding tables holding two new laptops with wireless capability. There were pictures tacked up all around of torture victims and people bloodied just in the last few weeks in the uprisings all over Tibet.

A gorgeous young Tibetan woman born here in the States came over and asked him if he knew why they were there.

He was so mesmerized by her charms that he stood still, even though he was cooling down and the stiff run home would not be fun, to listen to her story…

“Imagine she said, that you lived in a comfortable house on land your great grandfather had purchased and had a good life full of family and friends and one day your neighbor who was from a different culture than yours, came over with a bunch of thugs with guns and said, ‘Now you must speak our language and listen to our media and to make sure that happens we will take your beloved older brother to prison and move in with you.

From now on you cannot read your books, or practice your little heathen rituals. You will only see our art and you will enjoy it. Oh and by the way we have a railroad we need help building so that is what you will be doing now…’

This is what it was like to live in Tibet”, she said, “when the Chinese invaded. My grandfather over there on the blanket made it out but lost three fingers to frost bite crossing the mountains and saw the lammergeyers feed on his best friend.

This is not some far away annoyance, this is happening still today, right this minute in Tibet. The Chinese continue to move their people into our homes and we will be beaten and shot and tortured right now, right this minute for what we are doing here on this quiet cold morning only we are lucky enough to be in America.”

A little audience of passer bys had joined Duncan now. One a middle aged non descript blond had tears in her eyes. The young woman went on to say, “Did you know that there is now anthropological evidence that the Navajo peoples and the Tibetans are linked genetically? Do you feel good about what happened to that Navajo language and culture? Do you think the choices Americans made back then were the right ones?

If you don’t, if you believe that because my people have chosen the path of nonviolence all these years that our culture deserves to be wiped out then (with a shooing motion of her hand at Duncan) go ahead run away. It doesn’t really concern you. But if you want to make a real difference today, right this minute go over there to the tables and my brother will help you send an email to the governments involved and the Olympic Committee.

When else, when ever else I ask you are we going to have an opportunity to get international attention? We too believe in the rights of all the athletes to have the opportunity to participate in these games and we know we are being annoying but look at these pictures! These are family members…

and so are you, don’t turn your backs now when you can truly make a difference. The Chinese care about what America thinks of them, we are their market.”

The blond woman said “I’ll do it”, and so too gulping air at the risk he felt he was poised to take by acknowledging his place in all of this and getting his real name on a real lists somewhere that actually might be used against him by one of the governments in question, Duncan sat down on the folding chair and using the template before him made a commitment, took a stand, and sent the emails.

One of the old men stood up from praying and asked if he could take their picture with his digital camera to send home and Duncan, ever camera shy from his days as an antiwar protestor so very long ago even said yes to that.

As they were leaving the young people gave him a small black ribbon to pin to his shirt.

He blamed the wetness forming around his eyes on the wind as he ran over the pedestrian walkway on the Steel Bridge to “his” side of town but since then he has felt more cheerful, more alive than he has in a very very long time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 49

Where do the keys come from that turn the locks to the rooms your poems live in?

Here are a few of mine….quotes from the New York Times (I’m like William Gaddis that way)

“…art of variation rather than destination”

“…the politics of enchantment”

both from the piece on Olafur Eliasson's work this week.

and on a seasonal note...“There is poetry in watching any physical task done well. But shearing is more like ballet. The sheep and the shearer must move as one.”

Found links that make me think… In this case about Mendelssohn who was so uneven, some of his pieces I’ve been enjoying a lot and some like his Midsummer Night's Dream which is boring.

And then there is Baryshnikov, never boring particularly when he talks about Merce.

Christian and I are reading out loud to each other a biography of Edward Estlin Cummings. I’m thinking Baryshnikov earned the better part of his arrogance whereas Cummings was a spoiled brat.

A spoiled brat firmly grounded in the classics with a facility for languages. He loved Greek and knew his scansion and that’s what makes his unique poems so strong. We’re reading those too.

Oh and one last quote from a very strange but gifted man… Erik Satie…

“I eat only white foods: eggs, sugar, grated bones, the fat of dead animals; veal, salt, coconut, chicken cooked in white water; fruit mold, rice, turnips; camphorated sausage, dough, cheese (white), cotton salad, and certain fish (skinless)."

I’ll leave that last bit to speak for itself.